Top of the Backswing: What You Need to Know

Golfer Lining Up Tee Shot

There are so many moving parts of the golf swing it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not know what to focus on. But to play your best it’s vital that you learn how to self diagnose and know your swing as much as possible. 

While it’s okay to hire a golf coach, you still want to have the ability to fix your own issues too. Since your coach can’t be with you at all times, you need to understand how to “swing your swing.” 

One of the best ways to evaluate your golf swing is to study a few key positions at the top of your backswing. This is the point where you are fully loaded up and ready to unload your power into the golf ball at impact position. This is the make or break point for so many issues and a great time to study your mechanics.

Keep reading to learn what you should look for at the top of your swing so you can create a powerful downswing. Plus, some of the most commonly asked questions that you might have about posture, wrist angles, and a proper weight shift. 

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Top of the Backswing

The top of the backswing is where all golfers love to screenshot a swing video and evaluate their swing. It’s the moment before the lower body unwinds in the downswing to create a powerful, effective impact position. 

Here’s what to evaluate at the top of your swing. 

Lower Body

The first thing to evaluate at the top of your swing is your lower body. 

Since your legs are some of your most powerful muscles in your body it’s crucial to make sure they’re working correctly. At the top of your swing your knees should have some flex but not too much.

If you’re looking at your swing from a face on angle you want to also make sure your right leg (for right-handed golfers) has some flex in it. It’s common to sometimes straighten this too much and make it hard to properly shift your weight into the lead leg.  

Too many amateur golfers don’t engage their legs enough and lose out on a ton of power in the process. Remember, power comes from the ground up (just watch long drive competitors swing a golf club) so make sure your lower body is engaged and working with your swing. 

Weight Shift and Posture 

The second thing to evaluate in your backswing is your weight shift and how it affects your posture. The goal is to maintain your posture throughout the swing – any changes to posture can result in thin and fat shots. 

To evaluate your posture, look at your head position at address and at the top of the backswing. Your head should be relatively close to the starting position. 

If you sway too much back laterally (instead of rotating around your body) it’ll likely be closer toward your back foot. The goal is to have 60% of your weight on your back foot so you can shift your weight laterally on the downswing. 

Another mistake that a lot of everyday golfers make is dipping their head as they rotate back. This also leads to a lot of ball striking issues as you have to make adjustments on the downswing. I like to think of having my head on a fence pole throughout the swing. Maintain that position as much as possible to 10X your ball striking. 

Related: Golf Swing Basics 101 

Shoulder Rotation 

Another good checkpoint at the top of the swing is your shoulder rotation. Your shoulders should rotate 90 degrees (or more if you’re flexible) so your left shoulder is under your chin. This also requires your hips to rotate as well but not as much – only about 45 degrees.

While most golfers know the general guidelines for hip and shoulder rotation there’s something else to consider. As Golf Digest pointed out, “As a good golfer’s lead shoulder (left for right-handers) stops rotating away from the target and the torso dips a little toward the ball, the right shoulder keeps coiling. 

If you thought of the shoulder girdle as one unit across your upper body, you might be surprised to know you can dissociate one side from the other. The left shoulder resists while the right shoulder continues to move.” 

They noted that most amateur golfers simply rotate until the left shoulder is done. But the right shoulder needs to keep working while the left shoulder resists to fix a lot of common swing path issues. So when you’re evaluating swing from this position, make sure to focus a lot on shoulder rotation as it can help with total distance and help produce a better swing path too. 

Left Arm 

Another important part of your body to evaluate at the top is your left arm position

Your left arm should be nearly straight at the top to create plenty of width in your swing. If your left arm collapses and bends, you’re missing out on the ability to generate a ton of power.  

But as David Leadbetter (a top golf swing coach) pointed out, thinking “left arm straight” might create tension in your body. Instead, in a Golf Digest story he gives a different swing thought. 

“Instead of thinking about your left arm staying straight on the backswing, focus on keeping your swing wide. You do that by pushing the handle of the club away from your body with your right hand. Your left arm will straighten naturally, without tension.”

Plane of Club 

The best place in the swing to evaluate your plane is also at the top of your swing. From a down the line angle it’s easy to see the relationship between the left wrist and the clubface. You’ll normally find one of three things when it comes to wrists in the golf swing

First, if the clubface is open and pointed toward the sky, which is caused by a bowed wrist. This tends to create a flatter golf swing and the left wrist is used to create a ton of lag on the downswing. A few good examples of this type of position include John Rahm or Dustin Johnson. 

While most amateur golfers tend to find themselves in the exact opposite position with an open face and cupped left wrist. This tends to make the shaft point across your target line and lead to a lot of slices too (since the face is wide open). It’s nearly impossible to square the club at impact and hit it straight. 

Not to mention, you miss out on a ton of power as you can’t create the same type of lag either. If you’re in this position it’s best to use a wrist trainer and improve your takeaway to fix the issue quickly. 

While the final position is a square club and wrist – known as a neutral wrist position. This is the ideal position as it’s easy to drop the club down to create lag and generate power. It’s also the easiest position to hit straight golf balls and make consistent contact.

Although a neutral position is great in a perfect world, I think that a bowed position is better than cupped. This wrist position can help you hit a draw and compress the ball. 

Top Questions About Backswing

Do you have more questions about the top of the backswing and getting into the right positions? If so, keep reading to learn more about this crucial position in the golf swing.

What to do at top of backswing in golf?

Once you’re at the top of the backswing the hard work is done. Your backswing sets up the transition and downswing so if things went well, now it’s time to unwind and hit it. But if you’re out of position on the backswing, it leads to a poor downswing.

Here’s a good example of this… if you take the club back too far on the inside on your takeaway, it’s nearly impossible to make an in to out downswing. Most golfers suck the club too far back inside which leads to a steep downswing (and a lot of pulled shots). 

The downswing is simply a result of your backswing. 

But if things go well on your backswing, then it’s time to shift your weight to the lead leg and unwind. The downswing happens 3X as fast as the backswing so it’ll occur quickly. As you shift your weight and open your hips, the club will follow to hit the golf ball and lead to your follow through. 

Just remember, you need to shift your weight as you open your hips. So many golf instructors talk about the hips being the first thing to move on the downswing and the upper body follows. 

While that’s true, a lot of instructors seem to forget about the weight shift that is happening at the same time. You want to have 70% of your weight on your lead foot to start the downswing as you turn toward the target. 

How do you get to the top of the golf swing?

The top of the swing is a by-product of your alignment, takeaway, and setup position. So much of what happens during the swing actually happens before the swing takes place. This is why it’s so important to master the fundamentals of setup, stance, ball position, and other factors.

If your golf swing feels off at the top, work backward. Always start by checking your grip, recording your swing from down the line, and then start making changes as needed. If your swing is off at the top, it’s often something that can be fixed at setup. 

What is the most important part of the backswing?

Every golf coach or website will have their own “most important part” but I think it’s the takeaway. Your takeaway sets up the rest of your swing and plays a huge role in consistency and distance. If things go wrong in the first part of the swing, it usually leads to a lot of issues.

But if you can master the first move in your swing, the backswing, transition, and downswing happens much easier. Once the club is at P2 (known as position two, when the club is parallel to the ground) you want:

  • Maintain posture
  • The club slightly outside your hands
  • Shoulders are starting to rotate with minimal hip rotation 
  • Club face is square (if it’s closed it’ll point to the ground and if it’s open it’ll point to the sky)

This makes it easy to hinge the wrist, finish your rotation, and get into a powerful top of swing position. 

Should I stop at the top of my backswing?

The pause at the top of the golf swing is one of the most debated topics of the sport. Some golfers swear you need a slight pause to reroute and shallow the club on the downswing. While others think it’s a natural movement and something you don’t need to consciously think about. 

What is the most common mistake in the backswing? 

The most common mistake in the backswing is typically a weak grip that leads to an inside takeaway. The reason most golfers take the club too far back inside is almost always because of a weak grip. Work to create a neutral or slightly strong grip so it’s easier to have a neutral backswing, slight bow in the wrist, and easy to shallow the club on the downswing. 

Wrapping Up 

The top of the backswing is a great place to evaluate your swing and figure out what went right (or wrong) in the takeaway. Don’t forget, your golf coach isn’t going to be with you every round or practice session – it’s up to you to learn your swing to avoid golf slumps. 

By recording your swing from down the line or face-on angles, you can learn a ton from this position. Once you diagnose, then you can make adjustments to your setup, grip, or takeaway to get into a better position at the top. 

Record your swing regularly so you can monitor progress and make slight adjustments as needed. 

What’s the biggest thing you look for at the top of your golf swing? 

Let us know in the comments below! 

Picture of Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard

Michael Leonard is a full-time writer, author, creator of Wicked Smart Golf and +1 handicap amateur golfer. He left his corporate career in 2017 to pursue entrepreneurship and professional golf; since then, he’s competed in 160+ tournament days and went to Q-school in 2019.

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